Various forms of slavery, including child labour, are present in more than 90 per cent of south India's spinning mills which produce yarn for Western brands, researchers said, calling for mapping of supply chains and tougher audits.

The India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), a human rights organisation, spoke to workers from almost half the mills in Tamil Nadu, the largest producer of cotton yarn in the country.

Most female workers employed in the 734 mills involved in the research were aged between 14 and 18, it said, and up to 20pc of the workers were younger than 14.

It said employees were forced to work long hours by employers who often withheld their pay or locked them up in company-controlled hostels. Many also faced sexual harassment.

"We have raised the issue for five years now, but even to us the scale of this problem came as a shock," ICN Director Gerard Oonk said in a statement.

K Venkatachalam, chief adviser of the Tamil Nadu Spinning Mills Association, said he was not aware of the research.

He said the state government had recently filed a report to the Madras High Court "clearly stating that these issues are no longer prevalent in the industry".

"The matter has been closed," Venkatachalam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

'Torture'

India is one of the world's largest textile and garment manufacturers. The southern state of Tamil Nadu is home to some 1,600 mills, employing between 200,000 and 400,000 workers.

Traditionally the dyeing units, spinning mills and apparel factories have drawn on cheap labour from villages across Tamil Nadu to turn cotton into yarn, fabric and clothes, most of it for Western high street shops.

Most workers are young women from poor, illiterate and low-caste or 'Dalit' communities, who often face intimidation, sexually offensive remarks and harassment.

ICN said in more than half of the mills it researched, workers were not allowed to leave company-controlled hostels after working hours.

Only 39 mills paid the minimum wage and in half the mills, a standard working week involved 60 hours or more of work.

"Supervisors torture girls to extract work beyond their capacity," ICN quoted an 18-year-old former worker as saying.

Another teenage girl, Kalaichelvi, who earned around 8,000 rupees ($118) a month, told researchers she was forced to work for 12 hours straight with no breaks for lunch or to use the bathroom.

She said she suffered from burning eyes, rashes, fever, aching legs and stomach problems due to the working conditions.

About a third of the yarn produced by workers like Kalaichelvi is used in export factories in Tamil Nadu that produce garments for many global brands.

Citing poor enforcement of labour laws and "superficial audits" by buying brands, the ICN called on the industry and government to map supply chains and publish sourcing details.

It also called for factories that upheld standards to be rewarded.

Opinion

Editorial

Noon leaks
Updated 27 Sep, 2022

Noon leaks

PMO audio leaks are a national security emergency that ought to be investigated at the highest level.
Cipher probe offer
27 Sep, 2022

Cipher probe offer

CONSIDERING the toxic political polarisation in the country, former prime minister Imran Khan’s suggestion that ...
Delaying Doha plans
27 Sep, 2022

Delaying Doha plans

WHEN Doha announced its intention to spend $3bn in different commercial and investment sectors of Pakistan around a...
Debt deferment
Updated 26 Sep, 2022

Debt deferment

Pakistan’s dollar funding needs for next 5 years have never been so large and world’s appetite to hold its hands never so poor.
Dengue concerns
26 Sep, 2022

Dengue concerns

AS weather conditions change in Pakistan, the threat of dengue looms large over the land. According to a warning...
Relic of colonialism
26 Sep, 2022

Relic of colonialism

THE law on sedition, one of several holdovers of colonial times, is among the most handy instruments for controlling...